The Trump administration said Wednesday that it is offering a record 900 tracts for an upcoming lease sale within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a region that has attracted renewed interest from the oil industry and geologists.
At 10.3 million acres, the tracts being offered for the lease sale in December represent about half of the 22.8-million-acre reserve.
The Bureau of Land Management said Wednesday the number of tracts to be auctioned for lease is the largest ever.
"(The) unprecedented sale in Alaska will help achieve our goal of American energy dominance," said U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, adding that he had pledged to help fill the trans-Alaska pipeline during a visit to see the line and Alaska fields in May.
The 800-mile pipeline connecting North Slope fields with a southern Alaska port moves more than 500,000 barrels daily, about one-fourth of the peak shipped in the late 1980s because of reduced oil production from aging giants such as Prudhoe Bay.
The Wilderness Society, a land conservation nonprofit, said this is the first time all unleased, available tracts in the reserve have been offered at once. The BLM announcement came one day after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced a lease sale for all available offshore tracts in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Americans should not stand by and allow our public lands to be plundered without restraint," said Nicole Whittington-Evans, the group's Alaska director. "We need a thoughtful, careful approach that emphasizes responsible development and recognizes that some places are simply too special to drill."
The reserve has been the subject of heightened interest in recent years following announcements of large discoveries within the reserve and nearby, including the large Willow prospect in NPR-A. ConocoPhillips has said the field could produce 100,000 barrels of oil daily and plans to drill three exploration wells there this winter.
The reserve is west of the Prudhoe Bay fields, on the edge of existing oil and gas development and infrastructure. With the recent discoveries, the U.S. Geological Survey is updating a 7-year-old analysis of the reserve's oil and gas potential.
Currently, 189 leases totaling 1.4 million acres have been authorized in the reserve.
Since 1999, 12 lease sales in the reserve have generated more than $280 million, with half the money going to Alaska, the agency said.
In the previous largest NPR-A lease sale, the agency in 2004 offered 508 tracts totaling 5.8 million acres, according to data provided by BLM.
A secretarial order from Zinke in May called for all available tracts to be maximized for leasing, said Lesli Ellis-Wouters, a BLM spokeswoman, on Wednesday.
Key areas remain off the table in the lease sale, including the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area that protects habitat for birds and other animals, said Ellis-Wouters.
Additional details about the sale can be found online at on.doi.gov/2fgHGRq.
The agency said sealed bids for tracts must be received by 4 p.m. Dec. 4, at the BLM Alaska headquarters in Anchorage. The opening will be held at 1 p.m. Dec. 6. A livestream of the event will be available at blm.gov/live.